"Today is one of the saddest days in the history of Sevilla FC," the Andalusian club's president, José María Del Nido, said on Tuesday. "That diamond left foot of Antonio Puerta has left us, that left foot that changed our lives has left us."
Fans pay respect
Del Nido was speaking shortly after the news was announced that the Spanish international midfielder had died aged 22. Puerta had been in a critical condition at a hospital in Seville after collapsing during Saturday's opening league match of the season and then suffering a prolonged cardiac arrest. Thousands of fans subsequently paid their respects as his body was taken to the club's Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán Stadium. Thousands more lined the route to the city's San Fernando cemetery for his funeral on Wednesday.
UEFA Cup hero
Puerta's name was inextricably linked to Sevilla's unprecedented recent success in European competition. Born in the city's working-class district of Triana, Puerta had come up through the ranks of his hometown club. He made his Sevilla debut in the 2003/04 campaign and went on to play 55 Primera División games. It was his extra-time goal that won the UEFA Cup semi-final against FC Schalke 04 in April 2006 and set Sevilla on their way to a succession of European trophies. He would appear as a substitute in the final defeat of Middlesbrough FC in Eindhoven that May, but then surpassed those achievements by converting the winning penalty in last season's UEFA Cup final against RCD Espanyol following a 2-2 draw in Glasgow.
Athletic Club Bilbao trainer Joaquín Caparrós, formerly Puerta's coach at Sevilla, said: "I feel like everyone else does in football, although in my case I was fortunate to know him better. He was a magnificent player and an even better person, with great humanity and such a promising career. I have so many memories of him... training, talking, his debut, his first goal against [CD] Numancia. He had succeeded at every stage of his Sevilla career and had a tremendous future ahead of him."
A versatile player, comfortable in a forward or defensive position on the left, Puerta earned a first Spain cap against Sweden in October 2006. National coach Luis Aragonés said: "At this time, all that is left for me to do is share the family's grief and give them all my affection. Puerta's great worth is above any other consideration." The player also lifted the UEFA Super Cup, the Spanish Cup and the Spanish Super Cup during a glittering last 12 months for Sevilla.
Sevilla team-mate Andreas Hinkel said: "During the Getafe [CF] match the situation didn't seem that dramatic. He even walked back to the dressing room. If we had known it was that serious we wouldn't have carried on playing. We are very sad at what's happened and can't believe it. We had been told he was on a respirator and that he was improving. It's horribly sad because his girlfriend is expecting a baby."
'Live with his memory'
Although Sevilla's UEFA Champions League third qualifying round tie away to AEK Athens FC on Tuesday was postponed, it was decided Friday's UEFA Super Cup match against AC Milan would go ahead with the game dedicated to the player's memory. For 'Sevillistas' that memory will burn bright long after the Super Cup has faded from view. As Sevilla coach Juande Ramos put it in the pre-match press conference in Monaco: "He is not here physically but of course he will be present in our hearts and present in everything we do and we have to live with his memory."
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